PTSD in the Workplace
PTSD stands for post traumatic stress disorder. According to the National Center for PTSD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that one witnesses or is involved with. During this type of event, the individual may think that his life or others’ lives are in danger. He may feel afraid or feel that he has no control over what is happening.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, symptoms are grouped into three main categories.
1. Re-experiencing symptoms which include:
- Scary and recurring thoughts
2. Avoidance symptoms
- Staying away from certain situations or places
- Feeling emotionally numb, guilty or depressed
3. Hyperarousal symptoms
- Easily starled
- Feeling tense
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry outbursts
While many mililtary vets have PTSD, it can occur in non-military employees as well. They may have been in an accident, witnessed a fatality or serious injury at work, or been a victim of a natural disaster or war. Due to the nature of the profession, PTSD tends to occur more in the medical field, fire fighters, police officers, and the construction industry.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employees are not required to disclose a diagnosis of PTSD, however they are required to disclose their condition, if or when they need accomodation to perform the essential duties of the job. PTSD can negatively impact memory, concentration, time management and organizational skills and more.
The Job Accomodation Network is a great resource that provides suggestions for employers to consider when accomodating employees.
While some employees have been diagnosed and are being treated for PTSD, others may not be aware they have it. If you are concerned about an employee who may be displaying or experiencing some of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to refer them to the EAP. If there are no performance issues, you can suggest they contact the EAP and emphasize that all contact with the EAP is confidential. If however, there are performance issues, you should refer the employee to the EAP for the performance problem and you can certainly share your concerns about the possiblity of PTSD or emotional issues with the EAP counselor who will conduct a thorough assessment.
If a traumatic event such as a sudden death, injury or serious accident occurs at work, you should contact the EAP about the possiblility of conducting a critical incident debriefing. Allowing employees the opportunity to discuss what they saw and their reactions to the event, can help them process their feelings and prevent PTSD. The EAP also offers education about the symptoms of trauma and helps normalize their reactions to an abnormal event.